Logistics have always been the most complicated part of the business.
You start with an idea – a bright spark that propels your journey forward. You find the right people, both the clients and the employees. You set up the funding, and the gears start turning.
However, if you’re running a business whose nature means your resources aren’t always located on your property, things can become challenging. Fast.
And just like any other resource (from human to capital resources), mobile company resources need to be managed.
Field service management (FSM).
In this post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about field service management, from the reason it matters to the software you can use to grow your business without headaches.
It’s time to manage your resources better, even if they’re not in your vicinity 99% of the time.
Table of Contents:
1. What Is Field Service Management?
a. Mobile Field Service
2. The Impact of Field Service Management
a. FSM Requirements
3. How Does Field Service Management Software Help?
a. How Do FSM Solutions Work?
b. Benefits of FSM Solutions
c. What to Consider When Choosing an FSM Software Provider
4. Frequently Asked Questions About FSM and FSM Software
1. What Is Field Service Management?
Whenever your employee or associate has to step out to conduct business on a client’s property or outside your company property, that can be defined as field service.
The most common examples can be found in telecommunications and maintenance. Technicians who install cable service frequently take company resources to the homes and offices of clients. Engineers and maintenance technicians have to inspect issues at clients’ locations.
All of this means that someone has to know and decide who will be where, and what resources they’ll be taking along.
This is why FSM typically refers to companies who manage installation and servicing of systems.
For each technician who takes a company van and company tools to a client’s home, there has to be a support framework (which FSM provides) for:
- Locating vehicles and resources
- Asset management
- Scheduling and dispatching work orders
- Managing field workers
- Billing, accounting and other back-office tasks
Mobile Field Service
Back in the day, FSM meant that each worker had to check in periodically with the headquarters.
However, the work paradigm has shifted. The new reality is a mobile workforce and a hybrid one at that. According to Gartner’s study on FSM, by 2020 more than 40% of field service work will be performed by technicians who are not employees of the organisation that has direct contact with the customer.
And while this is a cause for joy when it comes to reducing overhead costs, it means that communication has to improve.
An additional challenge for companies who require FSM is managing customer and workforce expectations.
2. The Impact of Field Service Management
When you’re a field service business, everything depends on the way you manage your resources.
The margin for human error is not insignificant – especially today when companies are increasingly expecting to scale. Even small businesses feel an acute need to reduce errors in order to automate their processes and, consequently, increase the productivity of each resource.
According to Field Point’s research, over 45% of field technicians don’t have the right tools. The Internet of Things is moving processes along at a rapid pace, yet 52% of organisations aren’t using software that allows for real-time FSM.
They do everything manually.
This causes lags, reduces productivity and translates to customer dissatisfaction. It takes us back to the 20th century, where everything was done manually, resulting in a large number of human errors.
A human error can cost your business as much as €20 million.
All of this is due to a combination of factors, from poor asset and work order management and prolonged service operations to on-premises difficulties resulting in back-office confusion.
Usually, your revenue suffers first. Then customer satisfaction deals your business a death blow. After all, by 2020 customer experience is going to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.
The risks and costs of inefficient FSM are high, especially considering that we’ll soon be seeing a shift in the workforce, with over 60% of field workers needing to be replaced within the next three years.
In addition to mitigating risks, good FSM should also satisfy the following requirements:
1. Customer Satisfaction
The service should be like clockwork: on time, every time. Customers expect zero disruptions, which can become a problem when you’re doing everything manually, like the 52% of organisations that are still using pen and paper to manage their field service.
2. Utilised Equipment and Reduced Costs
Idle equipment can result in high costs, so using every machine and piece of tech is a priority for FSM.
In addition to idle equipment, costs can also be incurred through low employee productivity and costs that are out of the company’s control, such as oil prices.
3. Employee Productivity
Employees should be productive and efficient, making the most of their work hours, which is impossible unless there’s a clear management system in place. There should also be a way to monitor their efforts.
As employees are the ones representing the company when working with clients, their behaviour also has to be up to standard in order to generate even more sales.
Employees should be secured and proper precautions taken in order to guarantee their physical safety while on the road and on location.
Since field service operations are a dynamic field, companies have to alternate between scheduling work orders and operations, resolving issues, administration, and everything else. Since the field service itself is the main revenue generator, it’s the number one cog making the entire wheel turn.
Finally, it’s important for data to be accurate if you want to make better decisions. If you can’t see how productive your employees are, how well your equipment is utilised, and what that means for the future of your business, it’s impossible to make informed decisions.
And now that we’re clear on the problems and requirements, it’s time to see what the $2 billion field service market has to offer.
3. How Does Field Service Management Software Help?
Just like at NASA, when computers are doing most of the heavy lifting you’re free to train superstar astronauts.
For field service companies, this means that you’ll be getting more time to improve your offer and your talent to differentiate yourself from the competitors.
In the long run, this satisfies your business needs, as well as facilitating the sustainability of your company. Training new employees become a matter of procedure, and the typical $3–18k onboarding costs are reduced.
Or – to use an analogy presented in the scientific paper “Leveraging technology to improve field service” by S. Agnihotri, N. Sivasubramaniam and D. Simmons – a successful field service company has to operate just like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with technology facilitating all the processes.
In their paper on using technology (such as FSM software), the authors describe a communications framework that drives results: DPEAT – diplomacy, preparedness and engagement responsibilities with the aid of technology.
This framework shows how FSM benefits from taking into account three key actors: company, customers and employees.
And FSM technology automates all the processes a standard field service company experiences every day.
Typically, FSM tech solutions are mobile, allowing employees to use the same devices they’ve been using in their daily lives and to maintain constant connection so everything can be tracked in real-time.
How Do FSM Solutions Work?
For example, if you’re the manager or owner of a plumbing company with five vans and ten employees, this is how an FSM tech solution would work:
- The system would alert employees to a new work order and provide them with all the information.
- It would monitor which employees took which van and which tools.
- At the same time, the central database showing availability and monitoring utilisation of available tools would be updated.
- The next work order would then be sent to the available employees, and pre-select the available vehicles and tools for them to take.
- Throughout the process, information on consumption, productivity, first-time fix and all other metrics is retrieved, stored and analysed.
- Information is passed on to the relevant departments (e.g. billing and accounting).
Since everything is automated, there’s no need for workers to manually do anything. Everything’s simply available at the click of a button. Available to visit a client? Click ‘yes’. Job completed? Click ‘finished’.
As systems created to keep track of various aspects of field operations and services, FSM software solutions come in all shapes and sizes and typically provide the following functionalities:
- Dispatching, scheduling and task delegation
- Work order management
- Real-time analysis of mobile work status
- Reduction of overhead costs and paperwork
- Increase in first-time-fix rates
- Increase in productivity and efficiency
Benefits of FSM Solutions
Just as a flexible diplomatic policy can provide satisfaction to everyone involved, a flexible FSM solution has multiple advantages.
Firstly, it enhances customer satisfaction.
Since it’s much easier to coordinate tasks, customers are reached in less time. And if there are any potential problems, you can easily identify them through features that allow you to monitor task status and possible comments made by employees.
If you’re offering a field service that covers different areas of expertise, you can also set up the system to assign tasks to technicians who have the necessary skills for a particular problem.
Secondly, good FSM software will increase employee satisfaction.
Since activities are automated, employees of all types (both technicians and back-office employees) can focus on optimisation instead of on invoicing, attendance tracking, task management, and headaches that come when a client wants you to do something unexpected.
With these tools, you can automate routine tasks, freeing up your employees’ time to do what they do best: provide stellar service.
Finally, it’s much easier to scale your business when you have full insight into the business process.
From real-time tracking of location and assets to customer history and job status, you can run your operations more smoothly. If a problem occurs, reassigning tasks is a matter of a single click. These systems also facilitate improved inventory and quality management.
And since they aggregate historical data, you can use them to make better decisions for each customer, each employee and each business goal.
What to Consider When Choosing an FSM Software Provider
The first thing you should consider is integration with your existing systems.
If you’re already using tools for ERP, customer relationship management, inventory management, sales, or any other aspect of your field service operations, take a look at the degree of integration each tool (and your future FSM tool) offers.
Typically, all of these tools offer direct integration with major software, as well as API or third-party integrations (such as Zapier integrations) that can also be set up.
Ideally, you’ll be able to completely connect your systems to a central database and reduce the number of data silos at your company.
Predictive maintenance is also one of the most important factors. You want to reduce costs, and this aspect of some FSM tools can help you to detect warning signs even before a problem has happened.
Finally, you want to make use of the full Internet of Things functionality in order to use your software across devices, departments and locations. If the software also provides a platform where a customer can submit their request, that’s an added bonus.
Frequently Asked Questions About FSM and FSM Software
Q: Can I use FSM software if I run a small business?
A: Yes! FSM software pricing typically varies from freemium ($0) to upscale solutions with a higher price tag.
However, the functionalities can be used by everyone and typically vary according to the number of users, meaning that you’ll be able to reach your business goals even if you’re not running a big company.
Q: How does FSM help with inventory management?
A: If we could, we’d all use the FIFO (first-in, first-out) method for an inventory that is prone to spoilage (Hint: most of it is, in one way or another). However, it’s impossible to monitor it all manually.
With FSM, everything is neatly displayed, labelled and assigned according to the method you choose, so if you want to make sure that the inventory that came in first goes out first, you absolutely can.
Q: I work with independent contractors. Does FSM software help in my case?
A: It does, as it offers more transparency. You’re able to see the availability of all the resources you need to conduct field operations.